Are Intelligent Virtual Assistants Ready for the Enterprise?

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Artificial Solutions’ Tenneo Analytics suite shows that different groups use IVAs differently, Jonsson adds. Younger people tend to be more emotional and express more sentiment when talking to an IVA, while older users tend to be more polite. The different generations also vary in their vocabularies and the way they use channels. Younger users, for instance, will switch to text input more frequently when interacting with the company’s Indigo IVA.

“Texting is a common way for them to interact with their friends, so they seem to adopt that modality and channel very easily with an IVA,” Jonsson says.

Financial Services Uses

“There’s a global phenomenon afoot to use an enterprise virtual assistant in conjunction with a mobile app as a customer identifier,” Miller adds.

This is particularly true in the financial services industry, as banks, credit unions, insurance companies, and others try to balance the convenience of mobile financial services with the need for security. PINs and passwords are under constant attack from hackers. An IVA can ask multiple questions to help better ensure the identity of the customer before authorizing a transaction.

The financial services industry also provides an example of enterprise and personal virtual assistants morphing together. Capital One is enabling customers to use their Echo devices for frequently asked questions, such as most recent transactions, according to Miller.

Beyond helping with frequently asked questions and basic financial questions, IVAs are starting to help with financial advice, Collins adds. USAA, which provides financial services to members of the military and their families, discovered that many of the younger family members, as well as some of the older ones, wanted better information about saving and investing. So USAA worked with Nuance to develop an IVA to provide proactive financial management information.

USAA’s Savings Coach app is a proactive virtual assistant that helps Millennials save money. The app—available to all USAA members—enables users to track when they skip a purchase, like buying a coffee, and moves the money they would have spent on the purchase from their checking account to a savings account. Members are rewarded through points, badges, and new levels within the app.

“It really drove engagement up,” Olvera says. “People like the fact that it knows who they are.”

Ways to Encourage Customer Adoption

To realize the full promise of IVAs, companies need to encourage frequent use of them, which helps rationalize their investments in these systems. While younger consumers often have grown up with Siri and other personal IVAs and will quickly accept and use these systems, other consumers have had bad experiences with older systems that resulted in them quickly defaulting to an agent, so they will need extra encouragement.

“Companies need to use natural language understanding in as many touch points as possible,” Miller says. “It all has the same logic at the back end. Individuals will determine how, when, and why they use these systems.”

“If the IVA is easy to access, available 24/7 on the channels where the users are, allows the users to speak in their own language, and solves their problems, then they quickly adopt it,” Jonsson says. “If it [additionally] provides a good user experience and [has] a personality and keeps users entertained, like Telecom Kabel Deutchland [now Vodafone Germany]’s Julia, then the IVA will get more traffic.”

Jonsson adds: “If the IVA makes the routine tasks easier for the enterprise’s workforce, making workers more efficient, it will encourage adoption quickly. This is what happened to Shell when introducing the IVAs Ethan and Emma, built with Artificial Solutions’ Tenneo. [The IVA] allows both customers and distributors to find answers to common customer technical questions quickly and easily in four languages—English, Russian, Chinese, and German.”

The Shell IVA solution, which debuted in August 2015, features male and female avatars (Ethan and Emma) that can answer a variety of questions for lubricant customers, including where to buy products, what pack sizes are available, and the products’ technical specifications. The IVA understands 16,500 physical characteristics and can match Shell lubricants to 10,000 competitor products. It can also process requests for brochures, technical data sheets, and material safety data sheets, in all handling more than 100,000 data sheets for 3,000 products.

Additionally, the Shell IVA can make product recommendations based on customer equipment by linking customers to Shell Lube Match, which provides more than 2 million product recommendations for Shell customers annually and understands 21 different languages.

Customer Perspective Must Drive IVA Design

“IVAs need to be designed from the customers’ [rather than the company’s] point of view,” Price says.

Beyond ensuring their IVA systems work at least as well as expected—and preferably better than some customers expect, so that they’ll continue to use them—companies benefit from customer evangelism in the form of social media likes, Tweets, and so on, Gray adds.

“Success breeds success,” Miller adds. “Once a person has success using one enterprise intelligent assistant, he will use others.”

The growth of the Internet of Things will also boost adoption, as consumers and workers use personal and enterprise IVAs to change thermostat settings, lock or unlock residences and garages, and similar tasks, says Collins, adding that expanded availability of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will further increase connectivity—and, presumably, user adoption of enterprise IVAs.

“And the more companies put them into TV remotes and cars,” Miller adds, “the more they will have success with enterprise use.” 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer who focuses on high-tech, financial services, and other industries; he can be reached at


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